Even for a science-fiction movie, Andrew Niccol’s In Time has a rather ridiculous premise: Humans have been genetically engineered to stop aging at 25, but everyone has a glowing countdown clock on his or her arm which must be replenished with time before it gets down to zero. While the rich end up with hundreds or thousands of years on their clocks, the poor are literally living day to day.
Niccol has made a career out of writing and/or directing these high-concept sci-fi stories (Gattaca, Simone, The Truman Show), but even he can’t quite make the world of In Time plausible or internally consistent. Justin Timberlake (not entirely believable as an action badass) stars as factory worker Will Salas, who finds himself with a surfeit of time when a suicidal rich guy unloads more than a century on him. Pursued by a steely police detective (Cillian Murphy), Will crashes the high-class world of the functionally immortal elite, abducts hot socialite Sylvia Weis (Amanda Seyfried) and goes on the run.
Will and Sylvia become sort of the Robin Hoods of time, stealing from “time banks” and giving years to the poor. Niccol forwards a clumsy allegory about income disparity, and while framing it in terms of literal life and death makes the stakes clear, it also highlights the inherently unstable nature of the setup. There are some effective touches in the background, and Niccol is good at building a sci-fi world around one unifying theme. The problem is that when the theme is this shaky, the movie falls apart whenever there’s a lull in the action and you start to think about how it all fits together.